Archive | June 2013

The Cactus Convention


The 35th Cactus and Succulent Society of America’s biennial convention was held last week at the Sheraton Hotel in Austin, Texas. This is the second one I have attended, and at both I have met interesting people, learned something new about growing cactus, and yes, come home with yet more specimens to add to my collection.

The cactus convention has an international flavor, as many of the speakers are not from America, but they definitely know their succulent plants. And have a passion for them. Considering that Giuseppe Orlando ran the risk of losing his life while searching for plants in Somaliland, Kelly Griffin and Todd Masilko had to obtain security clearance to visit Cuba, and the fact that snakes, dehydration, risky climbs, and goodness knows what else posed risky situations for all the other speakers at one time or another, you know they have to be dedicated to their cause to still be in the business of investigating cacti and succulents.

Kelly Griffin of Vista, California                   Giuseppe Orlando from Italy now lives in the Canary Islands.

Of course, not all of their collective travels are dangerous or unpleasant. But the trips all require a certain amount of determination to get the job done and then report back to fellow enthusiasts of what they discovered. And I won’t attempt to recant the whole convention here, but I will give you some of what were the highlights for me, and perhaps go into deeper discussion on some of the things I learned in a future story.

As I think I have mentioned before, all cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus. Cactus are native to the Americas only, but you will find succulents all over the world in an amazing array of sizes, shapes, and forms. That’s one reason to go to these conventions, to see all the unusual plants that fall into this classification all over the world. We learned about bottle trees in Australia from Attila Kapitany and the strange welwitschia trees of the Namib Desert from Ernst van Jaarsveld.  We marveled at the variety of plants from South Africa from Bob Barth and Len Newton. And don’t forget the cactus discussed by Woody Minnich from South America and the many agaves and other plants from Cuba from Kelly and Todd. And if that isn’t enough, Gertrud Konings walked us through the experiments she and her students at El Paso Community College are doing with the blessing of NASA on growing prickly pear on the moon! Her husband Ad also spoke; his topic was Cacti of Texas.


I shared a lunch table with the Konings and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and all the things they are involved with in El Paso.


Susan Amoy flew in from New York City to give one of the three presentations offered after the regular sessions. Hers was on the art of bonsai. I couldn’t stay for the final version, but she took this plant from full to artistically downsized while everyone looked on.

Over the course of five days we heard 28 presentations from 18 speakers, and that’s not including several discussion and work sessions offered after the regular sessions, so you can see why I am not going to cover them all here. More will come later.


But I will end with tales from the end of the convention, the closing banquet, which was quite nice. I sat at a fun table with several of the presenters and friendly cactus lovers and enjoyed the delicious meal. Music was provided by the Dave Madden combo, consisting of piano, drums, and what I called a bass fiddle, which seemed to be quite comical to the rest of the table. I’ve never heard it called anything else. And that instrument, the upright bass, as I was told is its proper name, adds a lot to music and isn’t used much any more. So I complimented the band on its place in their music and requested a blues number, Stormy Monday, to be exact, which they willingly obliged.


And then the time came for the lovely succulent and cactus centerpieces to be given away. Jeff Paviat, a member of the hosting Austin cactus society, announced the centerpiece would go to the youngest person at each table. His motivation, I suspect, was to make sure the young man named Jackson, along with his parents from Littleton, Colorado, who were sitting at Jeff’s table, would win as a way of encouraging him to stay active in the cactus hobby. Jackson was without a doubt the youngest person in attendance during the whole convention and many were lamenting the lack of new, young members to carry on the tradition. I had expressed my hopes that I would be lucky enough to win at our table, but I certainly wasn’t the youngest one there. But Peter from California, who was a young fifty-something at our table, graciously reminded me that I was 29, after all, so our centerpiece went home with me! How nice of him!

But I am digressing just a bit. As you can tell, I had a good time. And you will too, if you like cactus and decide to attend one of these events. Do check in next week when I plan to share with you some of the growing tips and other fun and interesting things I learned at the convention.



The Cactus Convention

Really. An event made in heaven for cactus lovers. And did you know there is even a cactus society-The Cactus and Succulent Society of America? This group holds a convention every other year and in different cities across the U.S. This year the convention is in Austin, Texas, and hosted by the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society, from June 15th through the 20th.

I discovered the CSSA around 2007, became a member, and in reading the bi-monthly magazine discovered the existence of the convention that is held biennially in a city that has a cactus society willing to host and organize the events and details for a successful gathering. The first, and so far, only one I have been able to attend was in Tucson, Arizona, hosted by the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Since I live in Texas and go to Austin often, this one won’t be the road trip the one to Tucson was, but worth attending, nonetheless.

If you are in the area, or even out of the area and would like to go, registration is still open on site, the site being the Sheraton Austin Hotel. Information can be found at . At least go to the website and check out the field trips offered, the speakers, and the subjects to be covered. Then you might see what you are missing and plan on attending the next one that will be in 2015 at a location to be announced during this convention.


Stay tuned. I’ll tell you all about it next week.

Pink as Pepto-Bismol in the Cactus Garden


May is the month I always look forward to in terms of cactus flowers. My cold hardy cactus out in the big cactus garden traditionally start to bloom the second week in May. This year with the terrible weather and the late freezes, the echinocereus, commonly called rainbow cactus, most of them from Texas, but some from Arizona, were off their time table. But the wait is over, and they are just blooming their little heads off.


I already have plenty of pictures of these flowers, but every year when they bloom, they are just so pretty that I can’t help myself. I drag out the camera and take more pictures. They are very seductive; it always seems like just one more shot is in order, that surely this year they are more spectacular than before. Besides, it seems like I am unappreciative to all their hard work to bloom if I don’t take a picture of them…


The advantage of having many cactus of the same kind is that when they all start blooming, the sheer number of blooms really make a statement. It is not like a field of sold blue bonnets, but the shot of bright pinks scattered about have their own appeal.


The blooms will begin to slow down now, but I will have something blooming off and on all summer. After these have hit their peak and slow down, then the prickly pear and cholla burst forth.



Stay tuned. More to come.